Title: The Class Trip
Tagline: Finally, it’s the day for the big adventure!
Summary: It’s the Sweet Valley Middle School sixth grade trip to a fabulous amusement park. Both twins, Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield, have been waiting for this day for ages. And now that it finally here they’re not even talking to each other.
Despite their argument Elizabeth can’t stay angry for long. [Raven: I can’t believe they’re now putting their stock phrases in the bloody SUMMARIES.] But when she goes to apologize to Jessica, she is nowhere to be found. As Elizabeth searches for her lost sister, she’s caught up in a series of exciting and dangerous adventures as incredible as Alice’s trip through Wonderland – adventures that lead the Wakefield twins to discover what real friendship and sisterhood – is all about!
Ooooh, a Super Edition! What on earth can be Super about it? The last few books have been pretty super in themselves, so maybe this book will be extra special and fun!
[~~# Future Raven: NOPE. #~~]
And the cover! Four kids in front of a bus! I recognise Elizabeth and Jessica in the middle, but why is the demure Liz wearing purple? Is there some Twin Magic for us to enjoy? And who are the others? I trust they’ll be integral to the plot of the upcoming book!
[~~# Future Raven: Double NOPE. They are superfluous to the so-called “action.” Also, hello! I’m from the future, and I eat my food in lozenge form. #~~]
I have deep misgivings about this book.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention this immediately.
Cast your minds back a few weeks, gentle reader.
Way back in April 2017 (gasp), I had the dubious pleasure of recapping a book called “Keeping Secrets.” If you’ve not read the recap, I urge you to do so. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
The central premise of the book was a shared secret language called Ithig, passed down by Daddy Wakefield to his adoring daughters.
Keeping Secrets was complete shit.
It was by far the WORST of the series so far. At the time, I thought it’d be the worst book of the entire 118-book series, not close.
It took six books and fifty-six days to produce a contender.
And why, exactly, is it so bad?
We’ll get to that in time…
[Dove: Having read significantly more of this entire series than Raven, I can safely say: Raven is correct. This is truly the worst book set in Sweet Valley. Not just in the Middle School section, but all that I have read (about 50 High, 8 University, and all of the Sweet Life/Confidential). It’s awful.]
Jessica woke Elizabeth with a start. It’s the day of the Class Trip! The twins had been looking forward to this for a while.
You wouldn’t think so if you’d been following the action in the main series, of course. No continuity here, dear me no. I mean, I know continuity isn’t a primary concern for the fleet of Jamie Suzannes, but it seems a shame that they are abandoning their form just as they are easing into a pleasurable groove.
Glossing over this, it seems that the Sweet Valley Middle School Sixth Grade are jaunting off to the Enchanted Forest, a nearby amusement park.
As they ready themselves for both breakfast and the trip, Jessica phones her best non-twin friend Lila Fowler in order to co-ordinate their wardrobes. Although we don’t know it yet, this is important for the plot.
Before we meet the rest of the Wakefield Clan, we have the usual spate of Twin Looks Like Other Twin, alongside a round of The Sisters Are So Very Different.
“Elizabeth loved writing stories for her class newspaper. Jessica once made the news: ‘Local Pre-Teen Murders Six.’”
[Dove: Only six?]
[Wing: They only caught her for six.]
“Jessica was a Unicorn. This mean that even though she produced a massive amount of horseshit, Elizabeth thought it smelled magical and sparkled like diamonds.”
“On the whole, Elizabeth favours a curved blade or scimitar. Jessica, however, prefers a serrated edge to maximise the jaggedness of the inflicted wound.”
Over breakfast, we meet Steven Wakefield, the twins’ fourteen-year-old brother, and Alice Wakefield, the Matriarch of the Wakefield Clan. Obviously, Papa Wakefield is still in prison serving hard time for Ithig-based crimes against reason and sanity.
Is there banter? You bet your sweet ass there’s banter!
Jessica sleeps late!
Stephen is arrogant!!
Bacon is INFINITE!!!
(The Sainted Alice has hardlined into the Central Bacon Pipeline, and can apparently vomit baked pig strips at will, pecking and poking each rasher down the gullets of her greedy offspring. And its fine, because they aren’t fat!)
As the Bacon Orgy ends, Elizabeth remembers she has something important to discuss with her sister: apparently, Jess had promised to sit next to Liz for the bus journey to the Enchanted Forest. But when questioned, Jess ignores her sister and leaves the room.
Irritated, Elizabeth confides in her mother.
“Is something wrong, dear?” Mrs Wakefield asked.
Elizabeth hesitated. “It’s no big deal. Yesterday Caroline Pearce asked me if I would sit next to her on the bus today.”
Mrs Wakefield nodded. “And… that’s not good?”
Elizabeth shook her head. “Caroline’s the biggest gossip at school, Mom. I hate the thought of having to ride all the way to the Enchanted Forest beside her! If I had to listen to all her stories, I’d have grey hair before we got there.”
This is Elizabeth, right?
Elizabeth Wakefield, friend to every supposed waif and stray that wanders into Sweet Valley Middle School?
Our Blessed Elizabeth, preacher of love and tolerance to everyone from the lowliest mouse to the proudest lion? (ALLEGRA FORESHADOWING, YO!)
It gets worse.
In order to avoid a prolonged Pearceathon, our perfect Elizabeth – *gasp* – lied to her and claimed she had plans to sit with Jessica! The, later that day, she made Jessica promise they could sit together on the bus in order to avoid Caroline all together!
Seriously, this is a MAJOR flavour fail, Jamie Suzanne. After seventeen books in which Elizabeth has been at least 50% of the main character, I do not believe she’d throw Caroline under the metaphorical bus in this way. Caroline Pearce has a bloody gossip column in the Sweet Valley Sixers, the student paper which Elizabeth edits, and we’re supposed to believe Liz won’t sit with her for the journey to the amusement park?
From this point, the book lost me. I mean, there’s much worse to come, but I can pinpoint the exact sentences that prompted me to non-verbally tell the book to fuck off.
Jessica and Elizabeth set off for school. Jessica talks a mile a minute, waxing lyrical about all the cool rides at the Enchanted Forest. Elizabeth, naturally, doesn’t cut in and cement her place alongside Jess for the upcoming journey, because she’s a fucking sponge.
They arrive at school with Jessica blazing a path. The bus is ready to go, and the twins climb aboard. Elizabeth seeks out an empty seat for the pair of them, pausing only to greet her best friend Amy Sutton.
She spotted her best friend, Amy Sutton, sharing a seat with Julie Porter. “Since you’re sitting with Jessica, I asked Julie to sit with me,” Amy explained.
Hang on… So Elizabeth, when searching for a lie to deflect a gossiping Caroline Pearce, couldn’t conjure up the name of her ACTUAL BEST FRIEND as a sitting buddy? In fact, why the hell hadn’t they arranged to sit together in the first place?
Predictably, even though Elizabeth found them both a seat, Jessica instead opted to sit with her best friend Lila Fowler. She’d forgotten her promise to Elizabeth, and breezed past it in the faxce of Liz’s incandescent rage. [Dove: Also, Lila and Jessica are sitting together because they’re wearing matching jumpsuits. I bet that looks awesome.]
For a virtual page-and-a-half, Elizabeth rails at Jessica with little effect. Her anger grows at Liz’s apparent lack of empathy for her horrendous plight. Eventually, Liz is forced to sit with Caroline Pearce as the bus pulls away from the kerb…
Elizabeth tried not to grimace. It was going to be a very long ride. I’m never going to forgive Jessica, she thought as she settled back into her seat.
Really? Seems a bit extreme. Obvious hyperbole is obvious.
[~~# Future Raven: Nope. She means it. This is LITERALLY THE CATALYST FOR THE ENTIRE FUCKING BOOK. Jessica lets Elizabeth down in a wholly believable, expected and inconsequential way, and Elizabeth losers her fucking shit. Not only are the foundations of this fictional house built on shaky ground – Liz would NEVER lie to avoid sitting with anyone – but the walls are also crumbling beyond repair. Jessica is a proven sociopath who has amongst other things, almost killed a dog through neglect, and THIS is where Elizabeth draws a fucking line? Get fucked, Liz. You’re a scumbag. #~~]
At the park, the staff chaperones Mr Bowman and Ms Wyler ask class president Randy Mason (fair play, nice continuity) to herd the class together while they purchase entrance tickets for everyone. Once in the park, the teachers say, the kids can go batshit wild. Literal free rein to go anywhere and do anything. At first I thought this was a ridiculous plan, but if I hark back to my own school visits to Alton Towers, I think we had the run of the place too. I don’t know how much freedom would be allowed today. [Dove: Ditto, when they dropped us at Chessington: World of Adventures (lies, ’twas not a world, and there were no adventures) or Thorpe Park, they just left us to die.]
Elizabeth and Caroline part ways as they alight from the bus, and Liz hooks up with Amy and Julie for a day of madcap amusement park shenanigans. They agree on their first port of call: King Abelard’s Castle.
[Dove: If Caroline was so desperate to hang out with Liz, why isn’t she running behind yelling “LIZ! LET’S SIT TOGETHER ON THE ROLLER COASTER! LET’S RIDE THE LOG FLUME! LET’S GET OUR PICTURE TAKEN ON THE TUNNEL OF LOVE!”]
As they enter the castle, Elizabeth is spellbound. The options for adventure are manifold. There’s a no-nonsense area to the left called the Fun Zone, while the right houses her favourite park sector: Fairy Tale Land, full of fantasy themed rides and attractions. By “fantasy themed”, I do hope they didn’t speak to Stephen Wakefield when designing Fairy Tale Land… the attractions would be very one dimensional if they were based on his hormonally incestuous fantasies. The rides, however, would be pretty popular.
Elizabeth and her pals board the steam locomotive that serves the park. She blows off Caroline once more, turning her down for a lunch date. And as the train pulls away, she thinks of Lila and Jessica…
But then she thought of Jessica and Lila, and her good mood faded. No matter how hard she tried, it seemed she couldn’t forget Jessica’s broken promise.
For fuck’s sake, Liz. Let it go.
[Dove: This is like someone with 15 broken bones being upset that their shoelace broke. Sure, it’s an issue, but there are other things to be upset about. Liz is a moron.]
We cut to Lila and Jessica. Sweet Valley’s Apex Spoiled Little Rich Girl is being demanding. Nothing new there. While Jessica browses in a gift shop, Lila latches herself onto the first good looking boy she can find, ultimately ditching her friend for the promise of a breathless grope in a ghost train tunnel. She abandons Jessica to her own devices.
Sigh. Can’t we have the Lila from The Older Boy, who actually, y’know, was a friend to Jessica? She was much better than this lazily-written plot puppet.
Back with Liz and her entourage, we see the girls wander past a slew of attractions on their way to King Abelard’s Castle, such as Ape Man’s Safari ride (Mr Davis’s favourite ride, given his final choice of review sketch), Ali Baba’s Treasure Hunt, Dracula’s Haunted House, and the Farmer In The Dell.
As they join the line for the Castle ride, Elizabeth hears Jessica’s voice calling for her. And in a complete dick move, she does nothing.
Elizabeth did hear her, but she was pretending she didn’t. She took her place in the line without so much as a backward glance. It’s about time Jessica had a dose of her own medicine I’m not going to forgive her so quickly this time. She simply had to learn not to treat other people so thoughtlessly.
With a sneery backward glance, Liz sees Jessica board the boat ride to the Castle all by herself. She feels a twinge of guilt, but swallows it deep. Jessica needs her medicine.
FUCK OFF, Elizabeth.
Let’s look at Jessica’s apparent transgression.
In order to provide Elizabeth with an alibi to help her avoid an unpleasant journey, Jessica was press-ganged into promising to sit with her sister on the trip to the Enchanted Forest. She forgot, and instead planned a fun day with her best friend Lila. When confronted with her “betrayal,” Jessica apologises and (rightly) tells Elizabeth that there are plenty of other options for the trip; Elizabeth is Little Miss Popular, after all.
None of this is good enough for Elizabeth.
And when it becomes apparent that Jessica has been ditched by her apparent best friend, Elizabeth chooses that THIS is the line that must not be crossed, that Jessica needs to learn her lesson RIGHT NOW rather that enjoy the trip that BOTH of them had been looking forward to for weeks.
Liz, if this was such an important trip to you, PLAN WHO YOU’RE GOING TO TRAVEL WITH IN ADVANCE, rather than the day before you go.
All of this could have been avoided with a bit of forward planning, you ridiculous blonde fuckwit.
The boat set off, with Elizabeth and Amy enjoying the attractions. Look there! It’s an alligator! And over there! A jester doing tricks!
In the next room, the girls see King Abelard himself! Sat at the head of an enormous table, huge goblet in hand, and a pig’s head with an apple in its mouth before him, the comparison to the decadence of Stephen Wakefield passes unnoticed.
The whole ride is scary. There are gargoyles, and wizards, and black cats, and jousting knights in shiny armour. There’s even a small blonde girl, trapped in a cage, prisoner of some external evil that goes unmentioned. Basically, it’s Game of Thrones without the tits, the dragons or the budget. [Dove: So… Knightmare?]
In fact, the imprisoned girl reminds Liz of her much maligned twin sister. The guilt starts to eat now, as it should, because Elizabeth is a prime cleft at this point.
Then Amy cried, “Liz, look out!”
Above them, a double-headed axe swung back and forth, for no apparent reason other than KLOLDUNGEON. The girls recoiled in horror, with Elizabeth turning to check on her beleaguered better half.
Amy moved just as Elizabeth turned and their heads knocked together with numbing force.
OBVIOUS DREAM SEQUENCE IS OBVIOUS.
I fucking HATE this trope. Is it just me?
In any book, film or TV show, whenever a main character either bangs their head or drops off for a conveniently timed nap, it’s ALWAYS the path to a fucking dream sequence.
For a start, WHY SHOW THE HEAD BUMP IF IT’S NOT IMPORTANT? Because the clash of heads is in the narrative, it MUST signify the start of a dream sequence. There’s pretty much no other reason for it to exist, unless it’s just crap padding. Or is this the start of Elizabeth exploring the relationship between pleasure and pain? Nah, far too Fifty Shades for Sweet Valley.
I’ll save my main vitriol on dream sequences for when this one decisively kicks in. Which it will, and soon. Elizabeth will be walking along, doing normal things, and then BAM! A frog will start talking to her or something, and she’ll say “my, am I dreaming?!” And I’ll feel like slashing my fucking wrists.
Hopefully I’m wrong, or the sequence will pass quickly.
Either way, I really hate this book.
[~~# Future Raven: The rest of the damn BOOK is a dream sequence. A colossal arse-clenchingly awful sequence. If I had the power to travel backwards in time instead of forwards, I’m go find Present Raven, slap him squarely in the face and knock the Kindle (and the razor blade) from his unsuspecting hands. #~~]
After the usual twee exchange re: the bump (“Are you okay?” … “Yes, are YOU okay?” … “Yes, but are YOU okay?!”), the girls alight the boat and head off to Caterpillar Cavern. It seems that the bump on the ol’ noggin has knocked some sense into Liz, and she vows to find her twin and forgive her transgression. Elizabeth could never stay mad at Jessica for long, and in this case, “Long” is defined as 20% of a Super Edition on a Kindle. Jessica, however, is nowhere to be seen. Did she dart off the ride like a preteen ninja? Or is this the first indicator of a DREAM SEQUENCE actually kicking in? Benefit of the doubt, let’s say Jess is just quick off the mark at this time.
After riding the Caterpillar Cavern, the highlight of which appears to be a huge caterpillar in a cavern, Liz still can’t find her sister. The amusement park is now filling up, and Liz worries that she’ll never find Jessica in the crowd. She quizzes a slew of Sixth Valley Middle School’s finest (Charlie Cashman, Jerry McAllister, even Lila Fowler sticky from her rendezvous with The Handsome Boy), but to no avail. [Dove: Jamie Suzanne, why did you pick those boys in particular? Liz has never spoken to them, and Charlie and Jerry tend to err on the side of thuggish. Why not Ken Matthews or Tom McKay, who we actually know?]
Abandoning her friends to ride the coasters in peace, Liz ponders her predicament. Something is definitely wrong, she decides. Casting her mind back, she realises that she hadn’t seen Jessica since the boat ride in King Abelard’s Castle.
What if she fell out of the boat? What if she’s hurt? Poor Jess. All alone in the dark and no one to help her.
[Wing: Pretty sure there are safety precautions in place, Elizabeth, but you just keep
Elizabeth decides to revisit the castle ride in search of a possibly injured Jessica. When she arrived, she was met with a strange sight…
She gasped when she got to the door. Something was terribly wrong! No one was waiting on line. The boats were gone and no attendants were there. The castle itself sat strangely silent amid the silver eucalyptus trees.
In a panic, Liz searches for something, anything to help her find Jessica. She uncovers a small rowing boat, and paddles across to the castle itself. When ashore, she stumbles across a small door she’d not noticed before, which opens onto a long corridor that descends into darkness. Gingerly, she creeps inside…
Right, we’re now fully embroiled in a fucking dream sequence. Shit’s all downhill from here.
As I’ve mentioned, I hate dream sequences.
I have three main reasons.
NOTE: These reasons are why I hate ALL dream sequences. They are in no way limiting the reasons I hate THIS dream sequence. I’ll tackle that in an aside near the end of the recap.
So, why do I hate all dream sequences?
- dream sequences are boring
- dream sequences are processional
- dream sequences are nonsensical
Listening to someone else’s dreams is possibly the most boring activity on the planet.
(That’s ACTUAL DREAMS, mind, not goals or aspirations. I’m always happy to discover Jeff in Accounts really wants to open a tea-shop in the Lake District.)
Oh, so you dreamt last night that you met Bono from U2, and he sang a song about a dolphin to you? I literally could give fewer fucks than I give at this moment.
A dream description reads like a primary school book report. What I Did Over Half Term, by Elizabeth Wakefield (Aged 8).
“… I went into the garden and picked some flowers then I went into the kitchen and put them in a vase then I turned off the taps and dried my hands then I went into the lounge and switched on the telly then I watched a film about penguins and then I went to bed. The next day I got up and ate some cornflakes and then I brushed my teeth and then I went to the mall and then I…”
A dream sequence is, at its core, linear: it’s a jagged jumble of broken memories and extemporaneous thought-spurts. It has no real structure, above a single line.
A thing happens.
Then another thing happens.
Then another thing happens.
There’s no guile here, no suspense, no progression, no growth. It’s merely scene, and scene, and scene.
While I admit that the Sweet Valley Twins experience thus far hasn’t all been high drama and plot intrigue, the dream sequence in this masticated turd of a book makes the other books in the series look like Game of bloody Thrones. And if I have to read more dream sequence waffle like this one, Winter cannot come soon enough.
“I had a weird dream last night.”
“Yeah. I dreamt I was kayaking with Bobby McFerrin, Dumbledore, and an effigy of Ryan Gosling fashioned from Rice Krispies. We had to use the kayaks to transport a wicker shipping crate full of clothes pegs across a huge river, but Dumbledore spent most of the time filling in paperwork to let us get through this weird floating customs barrier. After about an hour, my legs turned into spatulas and I was suddenly very frightened. Krispy Gosling snap-crackle-popped off to get help, and next thing you know, McFerrin was ranting about how Mr Bump from the Mr Men was actually a paedophile. Then an eight-foot swan with human legs offered to buy all the clothes pegs for his nest. I sold them, but Dumbledore was fucking livid. He tried to explain the intricacies of wicker-based peg export law to me, but the swan-man just kept honking in my ear. Just as I decided to kick the fucking swan-man to death and steal back the pegs, I woke up.”
“Mmmmn. Can you pass me the hole-punch please?”
Yep, when you REALLY look at them, dreams make no fucking sense whatsoever.
In my recapping hat, one of the joys of the job is questioning the motives of the characters. All three of us have got some great mileage from deconstructing exactly why Elizabeth, or Jessica, or Mr Nydick or whoever acts the way they do. On one level, it’s fun to mock people making strange choices. On another level, it’s good to fight back against characters who promote stupid and harmful ideas and notions through ill-advised actions.
The thing is, doing this makes a central assumption: that their words and actions have some form of debatable internal logic. And being in a dream sequence pretty much negates that.
Suddenly Elizabeth decides to kick a dog? Fuck it, it’s a dream sequence.
Jessica becomes a nun? Dream sequence.
Mr Nydick gets his cock out in class? Fifty-fifty either way to be honest, but you get my point.
It’s just no fun laughing at the characters for doing stupid things when the things they do are driven by random nonsense.
The dream sequence, and the resulting neutering of all motives and actions, are a Deus Ex Machina, the equivalent of saying “a wizard did it,” the grand panacea that soothes all ills. It renders the entire escapade pointless.
Fuck dream sequences, and Fuck this Book.
As I trust I’ve made clear, I don’t think I can recap the remainder of this book in the usual “he said she said” fashion. It’s all a fucking dream, and so the action – the laughable, nonsensical action – has no anchor. Oh look, Elizabeth has done something unexpected! That’s fun! Let’s mock her for it! But wait… it’s a fucking dream, everything is fucking unexpected.
Stuff does happen, though, even if it is total bollocks. I’ll let Future Raven explain.
[~~# Future Raven: Hello again! As Present Raven (aka Raven) has alluded, there seems no real point undergoing a traditional recap for the remainder of this book. It’s a dream sequence after all, Elizabeth Wakefield’s concussion fever, nothing but the personification of a purple bruise and a goose-egg lump.
Still, there are things to discuss, and scenes to mock, and we Ravens would be remiss if we didn’t write SOMETHING to mark the passing of so much beefy wind. And as Future Raven, I know what’s coming, and choose to divide the narrative into the following six sections:
- The Princess Is In Another Castle!
- Today’s Tom Sawyer, Mean Mean Pride
- Giant Steps Are What You Take, Walking On the Moon(beams)
- What The Actual Buck?!
- Stephen Magnet
- It’s Like a Fucking Fairytale or Something
I’ll now hand back to Present Raven to walk you through the streams of bullshit. Enjoy! #~~]
The Princes Is In Another Castle!
In which Elizabeth rescues a young blonde princess from the clutches of an invading army, by scaring a bunch of tame yet armoured knights through the miracle of SCIENCE!
Elizabeth stumbles upon, frees, befriends, and eventually rescues a young blonde princess, a little girl by the name of Princess Charity. It seems the princess lives in King Abelard’s castle, which has been overrun by the evil usurpers King Nestor and Prince Kendrik. Princess Charity believes her family and entourages are held captive in the main courtyard, in a huge cage next to a large pile of convenient weapons. Charity believes if she is captured, she’ll be Nestor’s slave and eventually Kendrick’s child bride! Kendrick, it seems, is a proper Mr Bump.
Elizabeth vows to help free the right royal Abelards, and does so by distracting Prince Kendrick’s moronic bodyguards with the flash from her Polaroid camera. As they stumble around, blinded by so called witchcraft, Charity frees her family, who take up arms and immediately repel the invaders!
First up, I actually quite enjoy the old “idiotic henchmen” trope, and having Elizabeth use the power of MODERN TECHNOLOGY to defeat the swords and armour of their medieval foes was hackneyed but rather fun. And I do enjoy that this part of the dream is directly influenced by what Elizabeth has been seeing and doing that morning.
The issue I have with this section is this: it’s the biggest and most fleshed-out segment of Elizabeth’s Bruised Dreamscape, and if I’m honest it could’ve been spun out to be the remainder of the book. I probably would have enjoyed a dream sequence of this type, set in a world with consistent rules and a believable fantasy setting. Instead, it’s completely stripped of all content to leave us with a husk of a story in which Liz stomps from A to B to C to D and saves the day in the space of ten pages.
It broke down like this:
Oooh! A caged child princess!
Let’s hide from the Knights!
Let’s rescue your parents!
Let’s formulate a plan!
My camera is a weapon!
The day is saved… hooray for Elizabeth!
Bish bosh, job done.
If Jamie Suzanne had concentrated on the King Abelard section of the dream, rather than branching off into the frankly mindless scribble that’s still to come, we’d have been just fine. I may even have forgiven such diabolical dialogue as the below:
One knight started forward. Elizabeth held up one hand to stop him, then cleared her throat.
“Wait,” she shouted. “I have a weapon more powerful that all your blades and arrows.”
Yeah, after that hideous cliché, she’d better be packing a motherfucking bazooka or some shit.
But no. It’s a Kodak moment.
(Before I move on, I’m happy that Prince Kendrick wasn’t fooled by the camera trickery. The boss should always be a step ahead of the staff, after all. He knew that this whole thing could be avoided with a swift mailed fist planted square into Elizabeth’s smug little face.)
After the King thanks Liz for her kind actions, he points her in the direction of the riverbank. Jessica, it seems, is in the clutches of King Nestor. And there’s a boy with a raft that may help her give chase…
[Wing: Much better, more effective repetition of fantasy world dream-like storyline can be found in Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde, which is fantastic.]
Today’s Tom Sawyer, Mean Mean Pride
In which Elizabeth flirts with Tom Sawyer, gets trapped in a cave, and gets rescued by a mouse.
Thanks to the fine direction from King Abelard, Elizabeth soon finds the boy with the raft… and fuck me sideways, it’s only bloody Tom Sawyer! They share a few pleasantries, and Tom casts of his raft to help find Jessica.
On their journey, Tom shares some tales of his life, and Elizabeth laps it all up like a star-struck groupie. Tom, it seems , has taken quite a shine to our heroine, proving that Mary Sues have been around for longer than I previously thought.
They reach Nestor’s kingdom, and Tom is soon on Jessica’s trail. They follow the tracks into an unfamiliar cave. Jessica’s tracks lead into the darkness… and a faraway noise proves not to be the cries of an abducted sister, but rather a bat that causes Elizabeth to trigger a catastrophic rockslide in her panic to evade it!
Tom and Elizabeth, lit only by a dwindling candle, attempt fashion an escape route from the now flooding cave, but nothing they do has any prospect of success. Resigned to their fate, they are eventually rescued by a mouse that eats some grass that loosens some stones that cause a second rockslide that frees Elizabeth to continue but consigns Tom to return from whence he came.
What the FUCK?
Tom fucking Sawyer? In a Sweet Valley book?
This has GOT to be the most ridiculous thing in this whole story.
[~~# Future Raven: You poor deluded fool. Jamie Suzanne is all like, “Dude. Hold my beer.” #~~]
Truth be told, to this English gent, the whole Tom Sawyer / Huck Finn thing is a mystery. I know it’s a text of cultural import to a certain generation of Americans, and I assume the book is a set text for schools. I’m not questioning its pedigree, you understand; it’s just that it‘s not held in such esteem in the UK, and thus it’s not as universally known as, say, Charles Dickens or some other appropriate analogue. I dimly remember a TV show from my youth called The Tales of Huckleberry Finn, but in my mind that show was an irritation that had to be endured before they put on Why Don’t You.
[Dove: I’m not as ancient as Raven, so that theme tune is not correct. This is the correct theme song.]
I’m sure the whole cave / river raft thing is pretty cool in some way, perhaps mirroring incidents that happen in the book itself. If so, well done Jamie Suzanne. You’re clever.
[Wing: As the sole recapper who actually is of an age and location for this to be a literary touchstone, I can safely say, NOPE.]
This whole thing is completely out of place. I mean, what’s a famous literary character doing just turning up in this kingdom? Tom Sawyer isn’t famous here… there’s no book about his adventures,. So why the hell would the fucking KING know of his movements enough to pinpoint his whereabouts at any given moment? [Dove: This has the same left-at-the-traffic-lights thinking as when Once Upon a Time did a Frankenstein episode.]
Oh yeah. Dream. Right. I suppose that’s okay then.
I fucking HATE dream sequences.
They get trapped in a cave, and are resigned to death by drowning. Then, when all is lost, they get rescued by a fucking MOUSE. When they realise that the mouse’s actions (eating some grass to loosen a stone) could lead to their freedom, they just sit there and watch the mouse eat instead of, y’know, moving the fucking mouse out of the way and tugging at the rock / grass with a little more fucking URGENCY.
Bizarre scene, this. Pure ridiculous.
Thinking on… doesn’t Disneyland have a Tom Sawyer attraction? And doesn’t it have a fantasy castle medieval land or something?
Could this book have been written with a possible Disney tie-in in mind, which was scuppered at the final hour? Maybe the park they visited was supposed to be Disneyland, which would make at least these first two dream segments a little more sensible. If Liz had been in the Tom Sawyer Zone of the park, or whatever, her dreaming of him would be much more acceptable.
I can picture the publishers demanding manic rewrites once Disney pulled the sponsorship plug. “Mickey has fucked us, people! We need to cut the dream sequences about Space Mountain and Sleeping Beauty. And ditch the whole schtick about the frozen Nazi head.”
I guess we’ll never know the truth…
[Dove: The missing money in Buried Treasure was due to fund a class trip to Disney, so I’m going with yes.]
Giant Steps Are What You Take, Walking On the Moon(beams)
In which Elizabeth befriends a talking mouse, climbs a moonbeam, is captured by the Queen of Drudgery, and asks herself if she’s dreaming.
Leaving Tom to return home, Elizabeth pursues Jessica once more. Ridiculously, she catches sight of her sister being manhandled across a moonbeam path bisecting the sky. Despairing, she claims she can’t walk up a moonbeam. Thankfully, a talking mouse convinces her that by golly, she CAN walk up a moonbeam!
The mouse – Allegra – accompanies Elizabeth on her moonbeam-striding adventures. Although she’s tentative at first, soon she’s bouncing along like an overactive child at a trampoline park. After walking through a cloud or something, they reach solid ground again. But it’s a grey world, bereft of colour and happiness!
In the glooming grey, Elizabeth sees men, women and children toiling in chains, straining over barren ground, using heavy pickaxes to break large boulders into smaller stones.
Quickly, they find Jessica. She too is chained in labour. Her spark extinguished, she tells Elizabeth there is no hope. She is a captive of the Queen of Drudgery, a vicious woman determined to remove all beauty and happiness from her world.
Elizabeth vows to help her sister, and the other captives escape… but by then it’s too late! The Queen of Drudgery has found Elizabeth, and her magic manacle holds her fast! The Queen herself appears, oddly resplendent in her grey garb and matching chain crown. She crows over Elizabeth’s capture, until an unexpected saviour comes to their aid…
If Tom Sawyer didn’t tip you off that we’re entering the realm of the downright bizarre, the whole walking-on-a-moonbeam-with-a-talking-mouse should have hit this home with the force of a deftly wielded cricket bat.
Allegra, the talking mouse, giving Elizabeth the confidence to climb a moonbeam, reeks of Dumbo and the ongoing Disney-fication of the text. I do admit that this one is a bit of a stretch, but it does fit the pattern somewhat.
And then we have the Queen of Drudgery, with her rock-farming slaves:
This whole section, like the first section in King Abelard’s Castle, seems unfinished and rushed beyond measure. We all know Sweet Valley Twins books like to wrap their stories in neat little bows, but this is frankly ridiculous.
At least the Queen of Drudgery – a cliché-ridden cardboard cutout of a Big Bad Super Villain – remains undefeated when the mysterious saviour approaches from the sky.
Who on earth can it be…?
What The Actual Buck?!
In which Johnny Buck saves the day, in his flying limousine, and I throw my Kindle into a fucking lake.
[Dove: It wasn’t a lake. There’s not a lake near us. It’s the River Aire.]
Johnny Buck, the personification of boyband mediocrity, swoops down from the clouds in a flying limousine. He vows to break the Queen of Drudgery’s hold over her grey slaves, and fills their world with colour through the power of Boyband RnB Emotion.
Jessica, free of the Queen’s evil spell, rushes to Johnny Buck to thank him, but the Queen is too quick! She snaffles up our favourite twin, bundles her into a flying hollow orb, and takes to the sky! Johnny and Elizabeth follow in hot pursuit, the flying limousine’s tyres metaphorically squealing.
Johnny Buck tried to free Jessica from the Queen’s clutches through the power of his golden voice, opening the limo doors and singing through the sky. It works! Elizabeth straining out, begs her sister jump across the void to safety. Jessica tries, but is snatched from the sky by another Big Bad… a wicked witch!
Startled, Elizabeth loses her grip, and tumbles from the Buckmobile, turning through the air and plunging into the briny sea below.
This is THE most asinine cock-vomit I’ve ever read.
I mean… Johnny Fucking Buck?!
If my fingers were thinner, I’d slenderly insert them into my head via the ear. When fingernail met brain tissue, I’d scrape and rummage until I eradicated all knowledge of Johnny fucking Buck and his Flying Buckmobile, replacing all such memories with a dull throb or a tinnitus ring.
That’s all I have to say about THAT.
In which Elizabeth plays checkers with a Sea Serpent in Atlantis before riding a turtle to the Wicked Witch’s kingdom
In the deep blue sea, both Elizabeth and Jessica discover pretty quickly that breathing underwater isn’t the tricky proposition suggested in her so-called school “textbooks”.
At the bottom of the ocean, in the fabled city of Atlantis, she befriends a fabulously camp lavender sea serpent with a penchant for eating his friends and playing boardgames. His name is Sidney, and he and Elizabeth play Checkers with shells and pebbles.
Elizabeth, quite sensibly, decides to let the big scaly monster win the game. Sidney is very pleased with himself. He magnanimously spills the metaphorical beans about Jessica’s latest kidnapper – Grisolda, the Wicked Witch!
Once Elizabeth has established Grisolda’s location, she bids Sidney goodbye with a wave (and a solemn vow that he avoid eating his friends on Saturdays if he wanted them to play more games with him). By way of thanks for Sidney’s change of menu, a passing turtle gives Elizabeth a lift to Grisolda’s domain. Duuuuuude!
Sidney the Sea Serpent is Stephen Magnet.
Is “a big camp lavender sea serpent” a trope or something? If not, and if this book was the first instance of such a creation, then Stephen Magnet of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fame was DEFINITELY created by someone who’s read The Class Trip.
And because I like Stephen Magnet…
… I do have a soft spot for Sidney the Sea Serpent.
I like his ridiculous over-the-top personality. I like his love of games. I also like his cheeky-naughty-boy approach to eating his companions on Saturdays.
After all, fish are friends, not food.
Once Sidney is in the proverbial rear view mirror, the kindly turtle that carries Elizabeth to her destination also conjures up some pretty specific imagery…
And with a surreptitious coo coo kachoo, Elizabeth finds her way out of the big ol’ blue.
This section, in the grand scheme, actually works for me. Why? Because my spirit has been broken by Johnny fucking Buck, and by this stage I’m accepting any old shite in order to shepherd the narrative to its inevitable and underwhelming conclusion.
Yay for undersea adventure!
It’s Like a Fucking Fairytale or Something
In which Elizabeth rescues Jessica, and a host of floundering fairytale characters, from an evil witch in a gingerbread house, using the undeniable power of giggling.
[Dove: Added bonus of the above scene? That’s Mad-Eye Moody/Barty Crouch Jr, speaking to Voldemort, about Graves, who’s spending his time with Fleur Delacour.]
At last, we enter the denouement of the dream sequence.
Elizabeth and Allegra wander through Grisolda’s neglected kingdom. Musing on what could have brought their surrounding so low, Liz meets a number of fairytale characters that are under some sort of magical curse.
There’s Rapunzel, haggardly and bald, pining for her lost love and cleaning floors and stoops.
There’s Thumbelina, no longer small, separated from her husband and forced from her shell home.
There’s Peter Pan, a strapping man of six-foot-two, toiling away as an accountant in an ill-fitting suit. [Wing: Hook did it better. Also, a bunch of law students watching this at the beginning of their first year of study maybe should have taken the lesson to heart. Not that I know of anyone who did anything like that.]
And there’s Hansel and Gretel, whom Grisolda has turned into furniture for taking a bite of her gingerbread house.
Each fairytale character longs for a sweet release from their cursed state, but Grisolda is apparently too strong. Nevertheless, Elizabeth vows to do her best to free them from Grisolda’s tyrannical mystical yoke. She and her mouse companion make their way to the Gingerbread House.
After a brief search of Grisolda’s confectionary dwelling, which contains a plethora of suitably witchy crap, Elizabeth uncovers Jessica by speaking her name and summoning her from the witch’s oven like some sort of Candyman Gordon Ramsay. Jessica’s first words – “It’s about time!” – swiftly lead onto her taking a huge bite out of a nearby window pane, despite her sensible twin’s protestations.
Suddenly, Grisolda appears!
Cackling through Elizabeth’s protestation of innocence, and presumably Jessica’s mouthful of crumbs, Grisolda vows the twins should be together forever. With a flick of her magical fingers, she splices the twins together by the hand and foot!
After a few false starts involving fingers-in-the-eye and stumbling footsteps, the irritated Elizabeth has an epiphany. She didn’t want to quarrel with her twin any more, and they made up on the spot.
Grisolda, displeased by the reconciliation, vows to curse the twins with more plagues and agues. Her black cat spots a timid Allegra, and chases the stricken mouse across the floor. In the haste of escape, Allegra claws up Jessica’s leg, causing her to giggle
Grisolda, hearing the laughter, is visibly shaken. She redoubles her efforts to end the twins, but it’s too late. Elizabeth has worked out how to defeat her. She tickles her twin with a vigour that would send Stephen into spasms of confused orgasmic delight.
Grisolda, her weakness revealed, cannot withstand the sound of laughter. She cracks and shatters into a thousand pieces.
Instantly, the spell binding the twins is broken. And the spells afflicting the fairytale villagers also fade to nothing.
Rapunzel has hair!
Thumbelina is small!
Peter Pan is a boy!
And Hansel and Gretel aren’t furniture!
Joy is, quite literally, unconfined.
Elizabeth and Jessica climb into a boat to return to the amusement park. They wave their friends a bon voyage, before being swept into a cave to be engulfed in an inky blackness.
In the tumult, Elizabeth blacks out. When she comes to, she is on the dock of the King Abelard’s Castle boat ride, surrounded by concerned classmates. Her bump with Amy had knocked her clean out, and she is only now recovering.
It had all been a dream!
This whole section was a step too far for me.
After meeting the Queen of Drudgery earlier, who was cannily deposed by Johnny Fucking Buck, we move to ANOTHER big bad lurking evil. Who basically has enslaved some people in a dreary land in order to keep happiness from destroying her.
Basically, this is exactly the same modus operandi as the Queen of Drudgery. So why bother “killing” her off to replace her with a Wicked Witch? [Dove: Because Wicked Always Wins!]
I think the dream sequence suffers from fragmentation. First the baddie is King Nestor. Then it’s the Queen of Drudgery. Then it’s Grisolda. The whole sequence would have been improved massively by a little stability.
Next, what the blue fuck is with the fairytale villagers? They are literally tossed off with a sentence. There’s no point to them at all. And Hansel and Gretel, being turned into furniture for a giant…? That’s some creepy-ass anime shit right there.
As with the other dream sequence sections of apparent import (namely the Princess Charity and Queen of Drudgery sections), they are rushed into oblivion with no care given to pacing or story progression. They start. They happen. They end. We move on. Atrocious.
Of course, this pure fairytale section does have a more Disney feel to it… perhaps it’s further evidence that the whole book was originally envisioned as a pure partnership with Walt’s Glorious Mouse-Fuelled Conglomerate of Anti-Semitism.
Other than the possible Disney connotations, the only takeaway from this section is that it marked the end of the dream sequence, and things could return to apparent normality.
Earlier in this recap, I laid out my manifesto of hatred regarding dream sequences. They three reasons – Boredom, Procession and Nonsense – were non-specific to this particular dream sequence. In addition to these fine reasons, there’s one more thing about this particular dream sequence that is more particular to Sweet Valley Twins…
Because of the dream sequence dominating 75% of the text, this isn’t a Sweet Valley Twins book.
I’ve read seventeen of these things before struggling through this one. Some I’ve liked, even loved. Some I’ve hated. But all of them, ALL OF THEM, have been true to their form.
This? Nothing more than Sweet Valley Mary Sue fan fiction, bereft of all the things we’ve come to expect in the series.
Look, I understand that, in a repetitive procedural series such as SVT, there needs to be changes of style and focus to keep things fresh. But we’re only starting this series, and we’ve merely scratched the surface of the stories to be told. At this point, I’m still excited to pick up and read one of these books, to see the characters hopefully develop, to be introduced to new situations and storylines that are WITHIN the established creative confines of the series as presented.
Thus far, the worst Sweet Valley Twins book I’ve read is Keeping Secrets, about the curse that is Ithig.
This book, the Class Trip? It’s infinitely worse than Keeping Secrets.
But The Class Trip isn’t a Sweet Valley Twins book at all.
And it could have been so much BETTER! Let’s have the same dream sequence, but ditch the terrible crap. Let’s take the King Abelard section, and expand on that. Then lets populate the court of King Abelard with exaggerated characters from Sweet Valley Middle School. Lila and the Unicorns? Ladies of the Court, ready with the latest fashions and within society putdowns. Stephen Wakefield is a gallant knight, Mr Bowman a wise wizard in a tower of academe, Mr Nydick is in the stocks for fiddling with the King’s livestock. Jamie Suzanne could have gripped this idea and gone wild!
But instead, we get… this… this… damp sponge, this flaccid and uninspiring tube of a book, a mealy sausage pocked with innards and gizzards and gristle and faeces and phlegm.
We wanted funky like a slap bass solo. Instead, we get funky like a pigeon carcass.
Have I told you I hate this book?
The book wraps itself up as you’d expect.
Elizabeth’s possible concussion is glossed over, but as readers we’re numbed by the teaching staff’s lack of compassion or care for the children in their charge. Jessica vows to remain by her sister’s side for the whole day, and in the new spirit of togetherness that’s exactly what happens.
Everyone has a wonderful day!
At six, as the girls make their way back to the bus, they pass the Farmers in the Dell attraction, replete with life-size costumed animals. As they do so, Amy notices the white mouse move.
Elizabeth turned quickly, smiling at the costumed animal.
“Bye, Elizabeth,” she called.
Elizabeth did a double take, then decided her imagination must be working overtime.
But Amy had heard too.
“The mouse talked!” she exclaimed in surprise. “These characters never talk. And how on earth did she know your name?”
So, it was all a dream… or was it?
YES, IT WAS ALL A DREAM YOU FUCKING BELLENDS.
(Aaannd I’m done.)
I’ve been pretty clear about my dislike for this rancid spoffle of a book. However, in case you remain unsure of my feelings in this regard, let me be abundantly clear.
THIS BOOK IS APPALLING.
Given the choice, I would rather…
- Take a cold teaspoon and work the head slowly behind my left eyeball.
- Deftly flick the spoon forward to send my eyeball, still on its stalk, caroming onto my cheek.
- Pop the errant eyeball into my mouth.
- Bite my eyeball in half, watching my own teeth dig into the pupil before I black out from the pain.
… than read another SENTENCE of this hideous tosh.
Roll on next month.
[Dove: I agree. This book is awful. It’s so basic, this happens and this happens and that happens, with no depth at all (even by the standards of SVT. So glad I dodged this bullet.]
[Wing: And by “dodged this bullet,” she means she intentionally did not rearrange the schedule to take it away from Raven even when the book is out of order, as it is now.]
Looking back at things I’ve enjoyed, and smashing them to pieces with the Snark-Hammer. Lover of games of every stripe and hue. NOT A REAL BIRD.